Josh Pastner fondly remembers Roy Williams

North Carolina Head Basketball Coach Roy Williams speaks with members of the media during a news conference, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Chapel Hill, N.C. Williams is retiring after 33 seasons and 903 wins as a college basketball head coach. The Hall of Fame coach led the University of North Carolina to three NCAA championships in 18 seasons as head coach of the Tar Heels. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina Head Basketball Coach Roy Williams speaks with members of the media during a news conference, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Chapel Hill, N.C. Williams is retiring after 33 seasons and 903 wins as a college basketball head coach. The Hall of Fame coach led the University of North Carolina to three NCAA championships in 18 seasons as head coach of the Tar Heels. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Credit: Gerry Broome

Credit: Gerry Broome

One of Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner’s first interactions with North Carolina coach Roy Williams happened long before the two met as ACC opponents.

It was 1996. Pastner was just out of high school, coaching his father Hal’s AAU team at the inaugural Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., a high-profile summer tournament that annually draws coaching luminaries on recruiting missions. During one game, Pastner recalled, one of his players took a hit, and Pastner barked at the referee in protest.

Williams, then still coaching at Kansas, happened to be right under the basket.

“He was like, ‘Josh, leave the ref alone,’” Pastner told the AJC on Thursday, following Williams’ announcement that he was retiring from coaching after 33 seasons, 903 wins, three national championships and induction in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Pastner responded, “Yes, sir” and proceeded to leave the ref alone. (Pastner interpreted Williams’ instruction as encouragement not to lose his focus on his team.) Over the next 20-plus years, Pastner’s sense of deference and respect toward Williams never waned.

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“I remember growing up in high school, watching him on television or watching him when I was coaching AAU, and he would be right there, front and center,” Pastner said. “And it’s surreal, 20-some odd years later, here I’m coaching against him in the Dean Dome or at McCamish. You’ve got to pinch yourself. It was a real honor and privilege to be in the same league.”

Pastner said he was shocked when he learned of Williams’ decision Thursday morning. He was appreciative of the kindness Williams had shown him over the years.

“Great guy, always was very gracious towards me and kind to me, and he didn’t need to be,” Pastner said. “Just a really good guy.”

Williams retires with a 16-11 record against Tech, earning the first win while at Kansas. His ties with Tech go further than that. As a high schooler in Asheville, N.C., Williams received an offer for a full scholarship from Tech to study engineering. But, inspired by his own basketball coach, Williams wanted to become a coach, and enrolled at UNC instead.

Pastner will forever hold a 3-2 edge over Williams. (Former Tech coach Paul Hewitt also was successful against Williams, with a 8-6 mark. Brian Gregory less so, at 0-7.) The Yellow Jackets won the first Pastner-Williams meeting, a stunning 75-63 upset of the Tar Heels on Dec. 31, 2016 at McCamish Pavilion. Tech had been picked to finish second to last in the ACC and had barely survived North Carolina A&T three days earlier. North Carolina would go on to win the national championship that season.

Pastner recalled that, with a few seconds remaining to play, Williams approached Pastner to congratulate him and tell him that he was going to take his players off the floor to avoid the impending court storming. Pastner reminded Williams that McCamish was flush with Tar Heels fans – many Tech fans were staying home to watch the football team’s bowl-game win over Kentucky – so there was little danger.

“He looked around and he said, ‘Good point,’” Pastner said.

Hewitt and Pastner are surely in rare company in holding winning records over Williams.

“It’s probably why coach Williams has decided to leave coaching,” Pastner said, tongue in cheek. “He’s thinking if Josh Pastner has a winning record against me, it’s time to move on. And I can understand that. What is going on? The earth is flat if that’s happening.”

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